The Evolution of Digital Marketing and How Communities and CX Will Rule Supreme

Digital marketing has come a long way.

It’s hard to believe that just a few decades ago, the World Wide Web was a relatively unknown world, and companies were still unfamiliar with the concept of online marketing.

Gone are the days when it was enough to place an ad in the local newspaper or on a billboard.

Instead, we have a wide range of digital marketing channels at our fingertips, each with their own advantages and challenges.

From social media to influence marketing, SEO to PPC, KPIs to big data – the world of digital marketing can be overwhelming, to say the least.

So what is the future of digital marketing?

To predict the future, we first need to understand the past.

Let’s start by examining the first stages of digital, then take a look at how it will continue to evolve.


Stage 1 – Mass Marketing (Web 1.0)

In the 1990s, search engines like Yahoo and Google became popular and opened up a new digital business world. 

In this new scheme where the use of the internet started to become massive, companies all over the world created their websites to showcase the products and services they offered. 


Google’s Homepage in 1998 via SEO Mechanic


This is when marketing moved from traditional to digital.

Companies started creating strategies to attract online customers and convert their interest into sales, primarily using email marketing and digital banner advertising. 

Websites would display banner ads directing users to the advertiser’s website. Check out AT&T’s first web banner from 1994:


Did you get nostalgic? If old-fashioned marketing is your passion, I invite you to visit the Web Design Museum website for many more examples!


With banner ads, brands would fight to get the attention of prospects, and the war for clicks began.

Suddenly, companies started spending large budgets on advertising and digital marketing. 

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) reported in 1996 the year-end results of its “Advertising Revenue Reporting Program,” with total annual spending reaching $267 million.

Not bad, but nothing compared to the $906.5 million spent on online advertising in 1997.

This was, without a doubt, a marketing revolution since companies could reach a massive audience with little more than a jpg and a couple lines of copy.

The late 90s and early 2000s saw the rise of e-commerce, and giants like Amazon and Alibaba took the world of retail shopping and brought it online.

With more and more people spending time and shopping online, search engine rankings became paramount for businesses.

Hence the rise of search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) with the implementation of keywords, meta tags, and other on-page optimization tactics.

We cannot conceive digital marketing nowadays without these core marketing techniques.

However, things would change soon.

Simply putting money into ads and banners and bidding for clicks would ultimately prove to be unsustainable.


Why Did Digital Mass Marketing Fail?

Mass digital marketing was basically one-way communication that was not destined to last long. 

People were bombarded by pop-up ads every time they visited a page.

Current studies show that 57% of people dislike digital ads, and only 6 out of 1000 will click on a banner ad.

This doesn’t come as a surprise since the average person is exposed to 4,000-10,000 ads per day.

Dangling digital ads in front of people doesn’t work anymore.


An example of web banners and ads taking over the screen via Wikipedia.


Email marketing was no different. 

People started to receive marketing emails every week.

Then they began to get marketing emails every day.

Now, the average person receives 121 emails per day.

List-buying, email scraping, and email blasts have led countries to develop stricter email marketing and privacy laws.

But they haven’t worked.

Email marketing is still an effective digital marketing channel, but the days of “spray and pray” email blasts are over.

Of course, email marketing and digital advertising are still around, but their effectiveness has waned over time because, ultimately, they are a one-way medium.

What they gave way to, however, was a new, two-way communication medium called social media.


Stage 2 – Social Media (Web 2.0)

We’ve all seen ‘The Social Network,’ a David Fincher film (one of my favourite movies!), where we see how Mark Zuckerberg (and others) created Facebook in 2004.

It’s interesting to think how a group of Harvard undergrads completely changed the way people interacted online and businesses entered the fray of social marketing.


Profile on Thefacebook in 2005


Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn allowed businesses to connect with their target audience with more personalization and engagement. 

Social media marketing has become a crucial component of any digital marketing strategy, with companies using social media to build brand awareness, engage with customers, and drive traffic and prospects to their websites.

The social media boom further increased the digital market when in 2000, Google started selling ads, and later in 2005, they launched Google Analytics to help measure the effectiveness of those ads.

Facebook did their own thing with Facebook Ads in 2007, later adding Instagram in 2012.



While MySpace was the first social media site to reach a million monthly active users, its close competitor at the time, Facebook, went from zero to 2.3 billion users between 2004 and 2019.

With billions of people on a single platform, it’s no wonder companies worldwide started focusing on social media to attract their targeted audience and connect with prospects to convert them into customers. 

So what went wrong?

A recent study showed that people spent 82 hours per week on social media in 2019 but dropped to 72.8 hours per week in 2022. Although, declining usage was not the only problem.


Why Did Social Media Fail for Brands?

It started out okay. 

Companies began initiating real conversations with customers and creating dialogue around their feedback, interests and values.

Check, for example, Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign. The digital experience aimed to create a more personal relationship with consumers by enabling people to send a virtual Coke to someone else via Facebook.

The Facebook website saw traffic increase by 870%, while the Facebook page, on the other hand, grew by 39% in terms of fans.



However, as social media exploded, many things went wrong.

For one, social posts by brands often backfired, as posts were often not put under the same scrutiny and approval processes within a company as, say, a press release, published article, or print ad.

This meant that a lot of junior, inexperienced social media managers began speaking on behalf of the company – often without much oversight.  


Posts that Backfire

As we know, a simple misstep on social media can go viral, and customers can take the message differently than the company initially intended.

Remember Burger King’s 2021 International Women’s Day ‘Women Belong In The Kitchen’ tweet? Yikes.



In a now-deleted tweet, the British division of Burger King aimed to draw attention to a lack of female representation in their industry; therefore, they were launching scholarships for female employees to pursue a culinary career. 

However, this is not the message that got through to the audience.

Ultimately, as we can see from this example, companies lost control of their own content and brand values. 

But that’s not all. 


Disowning Their Own Customer Data

By building their brand communities on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, companies gave up control over their own customer data.  

In fact, brands often need to pay to access their own audiences on these platforms.

This has resulted in companies losing money. Not only is it difficult for them to generate sales through social media, but they also have to spend even more money to access their followers.

This then becomes a snowball because once companies pay to build up this audience, they start throttling it until they pay more.

When you grow your brand community on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, you’re building their business, not yours.

Sam Fiorella, BONDAI

What’s more, with today’s algorithms, it’s very difficult for your own followers to see your content as it’s competing with ads, other brand content, and endless pictures of new babies, weddings, and cat pictures posted by friends and family. 

Indeed, 44% of businesses can’t adequately measure social media impact.

So why do it there?

The negative impact on companies is evident, but it also affects the users. Only 18% of American users feel that Facebook protects their data and privacy.

This is why 77% of media experts agree that consumer trust in social media platforms is eroding.


Stage 3 – Next Evolution: “Community Everywhere” & Exceptional CX

In the 2010s, people started living on their phones. Still are.

Now the message lands right in their hands, companies saw themselves increasing their budgets to develop mobile-optimized websites, responsive design, and mobile apps; especially when mobile usage exceeded desktop around 2014.

In this age of hyper-connectivity, people are constantly in contact with those close to them, but also with people who share their same interests.

In fact, 76% of internet users participate in an online community.

This has caused companies to shift from social media to online communities, notably after there was an 81% uptick in online community engagement since the beginning of the pandemic.


Community Everywhere

While online customer communities used to originate within customer service, they are now supporting several use cases across the customer journey to scale customer as well as prospect engagement digitally.



As we say here at BONDAI, brands are either community-led or dead

This may sound drastic, but the pandemic has forced people to create and maintain communities virtually when they could not continue to do so in the real world.

Gartner reports a 30% jump from 2021 to 2022 in client inquiries about customer communities, with 60% of those inquiries coming from technology and service providers.



As we saw in this digital marketing evolution overview, we went from traditional one-way marketing to building relationships with customers and using brands for better purposes.

It’s more important to nurture relationships with customers than just promoting products or services.

Take, for example, The 17th Floor, an online community for payroll, HR and accounting professionals.

The online community aims to engage in fun and productive dialogue on Human Capital Management (HCM) and driving more business value, including influencer content, educational webinars, mentoring and networking, and fun comics and water cooler conversations.



In an era where social networking is nothing new anymore, we see more and more examples like The 17th Floor.

Now, the user decides more consciously where to spend their time more productively, and online communities offer a mind-like space to be a part of.

Online communities provide many advantages for both brands and consumers:

  1. A sense of belonging and connection
  2. A wealth of information and resources
  3. Support, encouragement, and mentorship
  4. Opportunities for networking and collaboration (great for professional associations focused on career development)
  5. Advocacy and social change (a MUST nowadays if your customers are Millennials or Gen Z)

As our world becomes increasingly digital, online communities will continue to play an essential role in bringing people together and creating positive change in our communities and beyond.

But this is not enough.

There’s one more ingredient to add to the pot.

The customer’s experience.


Delivering Exceptional CX

Let’s say you created your own branded online community.

You have your vision, goals, a platform, and even your first members.

You want to grow.

People are joining, but your online community is failing.

All signs point to the customer experience.

Customers have come to expect a seamless, personalized, and hassle-free experience when interacting with brands and online communities.


As this graphic from Zapier shows us, providing a positive customer experience can lead to increased repeat business, as customers are more likely to return to a community where they feel valued and that prioritizes their needs.

Digital marketing in 2023 looks more like a circular relationship between the client and customer, where the two feed into each other.

But how do we create this unique consumer experience?

Check this video below to find out!


I’m Sam. I am the Chief strategy officer here at Marketing Inc, which manufactures and operates our online relationship management software, unlike many people in this industry, as you can tell by the gray hair, I got involved. Well, before digital marketing was a thing, it used to be just marketing. And so I have a bit of a unique perspective which has formed where our company and our software and our services have gone from that perspective from the perspective of what was marketing before digital came.

And then all of the waves of trends that have happened with web two points oh, when we had the opportunity to have a conversation back and forth initially with clients or prospects or whoever your audience was, in fact, it wasn’t even a two-way conversation. Initially, it was just us being able to broadcast to many and then many people being able to respond back to us, which we thought was revolutionary at the time and was gonna change everything.

And so everybody jumped on that bandwagon, and then we had the opportunity. What we understood is the evolution of that actually was that we weren’t talking to them, and they were talking to us. It was them talking to them. It was the masses of people that we brought into our online community or our website through social media. Now started talking to each other, and it was that we found was the next wave. And the most powerful thing. How do we harness that? How do we harness the wisdom of crowds?

As many of you will remember big famous saying, a great book written out if you ever have a chance to read it. The problem, though, of course, is that we discovered with each one of these phases is that it was very difficult for a business to capitalize on it. You could capitalize on the, on the conversation, you can capitalize on the medium. But how do I make money from it? And that was always the challenge that faced the marketing director when they got face to face with the CFO or the marketing agency when we got face to face with the CEO and the CFO, who eventually said, well, how much money did I make from this?

And so now what we’re seeing is the next evolution is, well, we’re not making any money on social media because we don’t own the data. We can’t control the access that we have to these people. Because once we pay to build up this audience, now they’re throttling that audience until we pay them more money. And then, if I do pay them more money to get full access to my own community, I don’t have access to that data.

And so the next evolution, of course, is enterprise communities is now building your own community where you can engage your audience in the way that you want to without having to fit third-party templates and third-party business rules. Basically, you use your community for your own purposes as opposed to building that. And that’s where Bondi originally started and what we do in creating these online communities. But then we also realized that when you build an online community, that’s only part one, building an online community is great to engage. But then what, what do you do with that? How do you manage those conversations?

The next step, of course, is to introduce artificial intelligence or some type of business logic that helps you understand, what are the trends within the conversations of your audience. What are your, what predictions can we make about where they want to go or what could, at the basic level? What could we learn from what they’re saying that improves our customer service that improves our marketing, that allows us to better understand our audience and their mo innovations for buying or not buying. And that involves not only analyzing the data from your community but combining that data with your CRM data or other transactional data that you have in your P system or your e-commerce platform.

So this next evolution is actually probably the most difficult that we’ve gone from, you know, broadcast media to multi-person communications, back and forth communications to social media communications. Now, enterprise communities and now smart where you can own the relationship and the data. But this is probably the most difficult part because understanding what makes a community tick and how to read that community to identify motivations for buying or not buying. That’s the next wave, and that’s where we should be.

I’ve always said that when you build your brand on a social network, like LinkedIn or Facebook, you’re actually building their business, you’re not building your business, you’re allowing them to drive traffic, you’re allowing them to retain your audience and get data about your audience and then advertise to your audience and eventually take them to whoever they’re being advertised to. So you don’t. Actually, you’re not building a brand, you might be creating some brand awareness, and that’s fine, but you don’t own the brand, you don’t own the community most importantly. And so, while I would never say that a business shouldn’t have a Facebook page or shouldn’t have a LinkedIn page, You have to be judicious about where you create those online profiles and what you do on them.

For me, it’s always most important to create those present but to do so in a way that drives people back to your community, your online presence should be as a hub and spoke model where it’s your community that you want everybody to land at to start from push content out.

To collect more information to collect more people, but bring them back into your own hub. So I wouldn’t say you should avoid building communities. You shouldn’t avoid having a social network or a social presence. You could do that, but that shouldn’t be where you’re building your online relationships with your audience that should be done in your own enterprise community with your own community, success managers running it today, people don’t necessarily buy just because a product is the cheapest or even because the product is the best some people buy because the brand, you know, they like the logo on their shirt. 

There are different motivations. The point I’m trying to make here is that there are different motivations for people to buy, and it’s not as black and white as it used to be. People have more information today. They are influenced by so many external factors than ever before. We used to take a look at the situational factors that were happening around that person when they were making a decision. What’s going on in the economy, what’s going on within their family? What is their marital status? All of these things had an impact. But today, there are external factors from technology to politics, there are social issues going on right now that determine why people make purchase decisions. And so you can’t just continuously advertise to all of these or a counter advertise to all of these different issues that are going on. So the best way is to connect with people and provide people with some value that augments what they do and what they do. 

So basically, what I’m saying here is to provide value that supports your brand or in a way that’s relevant to your brand but provides value to them beyond the transaction. So if you’re a bank, for example, and you already probably do a good job at educating your customers on how to invest or how to save. But what are you doing about helping them help their Children save or what else is going on in their lives, vacation planning identifies what is a good vacation for them. So it’s things beyond the base transaction that is related to your business. So this is where you have the opportunity through a community to build that relationship and augment their life, add value to their lives and in creating that community around your brand, not just through the transaction but by getting to know your audience and becoming part of their life, understanding what they want from a brand like you that will create an affinity to your brand that will dictate why they buy from you, but more importantly, drowning out all the other noise that’s happening around that could negatively affect their decision to buy from you. 

Once you have an established community around your brand, be it something that has your brand’s name on it or something that your brand sponsors, there are different ways to create an online engagement in an enterprise community. It’s really important to listen to what people are saying but also to create the types of engagements that would solicit the feedback that you need to understand what their motivations are. What is happening in their purchase life cycle? When is it the right time, and what happens when they do make a purchase? It’s important to create those conversations that end, that will give you the answer without directly asking. Hey, here’s a survey. What did you think of this experience? Right? By asking questions through engagements and listening to what people are saying, not just about their transaction, but their entire experience with your brand and the product and competitors’ product. 

You can now better understand their journey. You can better understand the way they see their progress or their experience through that life cycle that purchased life cycle. When you ask a survey or you send a survey, you can get any answer you want, right? Marketers like me, can find ways to ask questions to get the answers that you want. So it’s not really an effective way to understand the customer experience, right? But when you create natural conversations or facilitate natural conversations through a variety of engagements, like webinars, fireside chats, and online forums, where you encourage peer-to-peer conversations amongst your audience, you have the opportunity with a good smart community and the proper AI to be able to understand that customer journey and that will then help you shape how you create yours and how you guide yours. 

So, Bondai was created specifically to help brands in this next evolution of marketing. It isn’t enough to have a standalone brand on a social network or even your own standalone brand. What Bondi is is a series of insights that are generated from the conversations and from the various engagements that are created within that community. Those insights can help us not only determine what motivates them to engage with your brand or with their peers but it allows us to understand what motivates their purchase decisions, what influences their purchase decisions, what’s going on in their lives at the point of considering a purchase or making a purchase and even post-purchase that data, especially when we marry it with the data that we can import from your CRM from your sales force from your e-commerce platform. 

When we can marry that transactional data with the engagement insights or Bondai, we can now drive recommendations to your marketing team, to your customer service team, to your sales team to your operations team that would I positively impact not only how people see your brand, how they engage with your brand, but in the end bottom line sales. And that is something that is completely unique to Bondi that we’ve not seen anywhere else. And we’re excited to introduce.

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